Journée d’étude du 28 octobre 2011, BnF, Salle des commissions
Deciphering the Fatimid representation of the Indian Ocean: Coast-hugging in Somalia and ants in the Philippines
Yossef Rapoport (Queen Mary, University of London)
Unlike the Map of the Mediterranean in the Fatimid Book of Curiosities, much of the map of the Indian Ocean in the same work is taken up by information unrelated to navigation, such as the size of the Chinese army, or inland localities, such as Najrân in theYemen or Thanesar in northernIndia. With regard to theFar East, the information is derived from the literary works of the 9th and 10th centuries. Original material about navigation, however, is introduced with regard to the East African coasts, consisting of a list of prominent capes along the African coasts of the Gulf of Aden up to Ra’s Khâfûn, some with short descriptions; a list of localities along the African coast up to Malindi and beyond; and a list of islands off the coast, apparently organized in a geographical sequence. A series of labels written along the rim of the oval refer to capes that would have been visible to sailors hugging the African coasts of the Gulf of Aden, from the Bab al-Mandeb Straits up to thepeninsula ofRa’s Khâfûn. The comparison between the material on East Asia, which is derived from 9th century literary sources, and the navigation material from the Somali coast, represents the relationship of the Fatimid state with regard to theIndian Ocean. The abandonment of the Abbasid maritime routes toChina by the end of the 9th century seems to have been complete; but, in the beginning of the 11th century, Ismaili and Fatimid merchants were sailing down the east African coasts, setting the stage for the Swahili island states.